Freight News, Sea

Ship early for Christmas?

[ October 15, 2021   //   ]

Imported consumer goods should arrive in the country at least six weeks earlier than normal to make it onto shelves in time for Black Friday, according to JOC by IHS Markit.

Any goods from Asia will need to have cleared US ports by now if they are to be certain of making it onto shop shelves in time for Christmas, according to a survey by analysts IHS Markit.

The warning comes as 1.59 million teu of imports into the US arrived in September from Asia, up 13.8% from pre-Covid September 2019, according to HIS markit’s PIERS survey, which added that congestion is likely to continue into 2022.

However, it added that many retailers prioritised their holiday season shipping needs to get goods in early. The latest US containerised import data shows signs of a slowdown, indicating the rush to get goods into the US might be starting to slow.

The latest Port Performance Data by IHS Markit shows that the time vessels spend in key US West Coast ports waiting and unloading cargo deteriorated significantly in August 2021 to 348 hours for Los Angeles (versus 255 hours in July 2019) and 268 hours for Long Beach (versus 190 hours in July 2021). These numbers are around triple what they would have been before the pandemic in August 2019. 

While IHS Markit added that port delays in Europe are not as pronounced as the US West coast, although vessel waiting times of 39.7 to 43.5 hours at the three largest UK ports (London Gateway, Southampton and Felixstowe) are markedly longer than in the major Continental hubs (33.4-34.6 hours).

However, director general of the British International Freight Association (BIFA) Robert Keen said it was important to maintain a sense of perspective about the delays, “or the headlines may become a self-fulfilling prophecy”.

Freight forwarding companies remain committed to delivering the festive season in the face of “a seasonal whirlwind of worry and rumour that this year’s Christmas festivities in around ten weeks may just not happen as a result of the current supply chain challenges”.
Robert Keen pointed out: “Many products that consumers are beginning to fear will be absent from shop shelves could well have been shipped and received by retailers already. We need to remember that more teu were shipped successfully in August 2021 than in August 2019 before the pandemic. There is plenty of cargo being moved around.
Forwarders across the world, he said, “are moving hell and high water to address” the challenges and doing their part to ensure that the forthcoming holiday season will go ahead.  

Whilst BIFA accepts that moving boxes from the ports to destinations inland is one of the biggest issues facing retailers and the freight forwarders that serve them in the run up to Christmas, Keen hopes that as port congestion reduces, as it inevitably will, the headline writers will be equally vocal as backlogs are eased and containers are delivered.

Meanwhile, tministers were reported to be considering a plan to relax cabotage rules for foreign drivers, allowing them to make unlimited domestic deliveries within a 14-day period while in the country, compared with the current limit of two.

Subject to a one-week consultation, the temporary measures would come into force towards the end of this year for up to six months. The relaxation would apply to all types of goods but is likely to be particularly beneficial to food supply chains and goods that come via ports, said the government.